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Only Cutting Power Can Prevent Fires

This, then, is the utility company's message.

After the devastating fires of last year, in and around Paradise Calif., the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. cut power to many Northern California communities ahead of a wind event matched with dry conditions in Sausalito, California. It is an extreme "fire prevention" measure that will surely have significant and perhaps unintended consequences. See this New York Times story, Californians Confront a Blackout Induced to Prevent Blazes.

One of the areas I've invested significant time and energy is on the topic of critical infrastructure interdependencies. Most of the above story is about the impacts to people, but there are many other infrastructures that need electrical power to function. Water and fuel have to be pumped, and in the case of water, purified. Wastewater many times flows by gravity, but there are hills and you have to pump sewage to get it to the treatment plant. Perhaps they have worked hard to avoid those types of impacts. For instance, I have not read about impacts to hospitals that are priority circuits. 

The duration and frequency of these deliberate power outages will be telling in the future. Americans have a low tolerance for having their lives be interrupted. 

And, just today, the primary fire in the news is California fires around northern Los Angeles. It is the fire season!

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.